Fifteen schoolgirls were hospitalized with poisoning symptoms in the Iranian central city of Qom this week, as the authorities are investigating similar mysterious incidents that have affected hundreds of students in recent weeks.
The semi-official Fars news agency reported that 15 girls from three different schools were taken to hospital on February 22. They are expected to be discharged soon after completing diagnostic procedures.
Over the past three months, reports indicate that at least 352 school students, mostly girls, have been treated for poisoning symptoms in Qom, including nausea, headaches, coughing, breathing difficulties, and heart palpitations. Similar incidents have also been reported in Tehran and the northeastern city of Borojerd.
The incidents have sparked outrage among the families of the affected students. On February 14, they held a protest outside the governor’s office in Qom, criticizing the authorities for failing to find the cause of the poisonings and urging them to ensure the safety of their children.
It was later announced that a special team has been tasked with investigating the matter.
Meanwhile, the authorities are urging the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activities or substances in schools.
Over the past few years, a number of Iranian schools have been hit by walls collapses and fires caused by inadequate heating systems.
"Among students and parents, there is a sense of insecurity in schools due to a lack of attention and funding from the government," Nejat Bahrami, a journalist specialized in school safety issues, told IranWire.
She emphasizes the particular importance of addressing the issue of insecurity in girls' schools.
Some parents see the incidents that have affected girls’ schools as being part of a deliberate attempt to keep girls at home.
Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, an MP from Qom, has dismissed the reports about poisoning incidents in schools as exaggerated and claimed that they are merely the result of paranoia.
In contrast, the vice president of Research and Technology at Qom University of Medical Sciences has suggested collecting air samples from the affected classrooms and testing them for any harmful substances.
Only one boys' school has reported instances of poisoning since December.
"It smelled like alcohol, like poison. We left the school, and I started feeling nauseous and I coughed up blood. Since our condition was serious, they sent us to hospital in an ambulance," a boy said:
"There was a bad smell in the school building, and none of the teachers wore masks during the first, second, third, and fourth classes,” another student recalled.
"However, during the last class of the day, all the teachers finally wore masks. The smell was so strong that it made our legs feel a little weak until we went outside to the yard."